Tabula Rasa is the sci-fi MMO developed by Destination Games and published by NCsoft. It launched close to two months ago on November 2nd and I’ve been playing it daily since the Pre-Order Head Start in October. That’s part of the reason why it’s taken me a bit to write this review.
Developed by Destination Games / Published by NCsoft
Article by JR Sutich
I had already gotten to Level 5 when I wrote my preview. I did get out of Wilderness before the game officially launched and cloned my character at 15, splitting between Ranger and Commando. I played my Ranger through to 29 and started seeing problems with the game. Small things that when added up together really became annoying and frustrating. Things like the Targets of Opportunity quests are broken for clones created after you have completed the story missions for an area, and pre-order items are not available for clones. Not a big deal really, so I pressed on, continuing on the way to Spy.
It was around Level 23 or 24 and I got my first real taste of the frustration I would be feeling. I was in a team and we were running through an instance and one of the mission objectives was to find what was making the Atta in this cave become agitated. There was not a big yellow circle on the map which is something that is out of the ordinary. Without a clear direction, we started running around and exploring and one of the team jumped off of a bridge and managed to find a way to the area we thought the source of the agitation might be. We didn’t know how right we were until we got there and triggered a mission event that was a few steps ahead of the mission we were actually on. We then went back, found the mission objective, advanced the mission and eventually were told to go check on the Queen Atta. Sadly, since we had run ahead to the Queen Atta earlier, the event did not trigger again and we could not complete the mission. This was three hours wasted.
Life after 30 was pure awesomesauce as a Spy though. One and two-shot killing every thing I saw was great. This was a good thing because I hit so many bugged and broken missions that I needed to be able to kill things in 5-10 seconds if I was going to be able to continue leveling at a pace just a little faster than Lineage II’s XP curve. The game has gotten many patches that have alleviated some of the frustration, but there are still enough problems that after hitting Level 40, I have shelved my character and am waiting for the Personal Armor Units to get patched in.
I did have a great deal of fun playing Tabula Rasa but it was frustrating to see so much of the game unfinished or non-functional. Here’s the detailed run-down.
Tabula Rasa’s graphic quality is superb on settings of High and above. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a video card with at least 256 MB of RAM you will be forced to use the lower settings and the disparity in quality is very noticeable. There are a number of details that really made me stop and take notice. Weapon particle effects, logos skill animations and the AFS bases really stand out as things that have a definite cool factor. The game really does beautiful landscapes, but you will have to search for them in a bevy of lava and mud.
The sound in this game is amazing. I actually left the music on, and for me that is a rarity. Audio in Tabula Rasa is used effectively to make it necessary to listen in order to maintain situational awareness. Several times while I was running around the battlefield I actually had chills when I heard a Bane Dropship coming in behind me. The screech of a Lightbender or the hissing speech of the Thrax will haunt you even when you aren’t playing. Tabula Rasa does have in-game voice chat and the quality is quite good. While not absolutely necessary, voice chat does make Control Point battles and instances go much smoother.
This is another area where Tabula Rasa shines. Running around in the game, I truly got the feeling that I was in a daily struggle for the survival of the human race. Battles taking place everywhere, very few safe zones and a constant sense that at any second I was going to have artillery slamming down on me followed by a squad of Bane to mop up whatever was left of me. Sadly, this is a where Tabula Rasa started to frustrate me. The design layout of zones is good for the most part, but I really hated being prevented from easily getting up a small hill that I had just run up an exact copy of in order to slam into an invisible wall. Running around in Tabula Rasa is what you will spend most of your time doing. That’s because on the map it will appear as though you can cut through an area and in reality you’re going to run smack dab into an incline that is 1 degree steeper than the designers allow your character to travel up. There’s a reason why I started using death as a means of travel.
Missions are of the kill x, collect x, deliver x variety for the most part. There are some that do break from the pattern and are quite interesting. Some of these require the player to make a moral or ethical choice in order to complete them. This is part of some larger storyline that has yet to be revealed, but the actions you took along the way will set you on a path leading to having to make a really big decision involving which faction you want to be a part of.
Missions are also what caused the majority of my frustration with Tabula Rasa. There are enough bugged and broken missions to make you realize that without the experience gained from completing them, the game is a cleverly disguised grindfest. Some missions require you to attain a certain level before you can take them. This is a huge problem when you have run out of missions you can take and are halfway to your next level. Grinding out 2.4 million XP is not fun. It’s even less fun when you realize that the amount of XP that you would have gotten from all of the bugged and broken missions you had to abandon comes out to total around 2.4 million. Another thing that is not fun is spending an hour and a half inside an instance doing a series of missions and then having that come to a screeching halt because the NPC that you have talked to 5 times and completed 5 missions for suddenly has the dreaded walkie-talkie with the slash through it appear over his head for mission number 6, meaning that you are not high enough level to take the mission.
Fighting in Tabula Rasa is fast and exciting. Granted I played a Soldier, Ranger, Spy character which involved a lot of shooting. The game uses a pseudo-FPS set up and it works great for large scale Starship Troopers-style combat, but leaves a little to be desired if you are trying to heal or single out a particular target in a group of five or more. It’s in combat that the class balance really shows itself to be completely off. There are some classes that are golden gods on the battlefield and some that just plain might as well not even come out of the barracks. The designers have noticed this and are completely re-doing several classes. They are doing this six weeks after launch. A great number of large core design changes are being made that quite honestly, should have been taken care of during the beta test. Online play experience may change, indeed.
Crafting, as far as I can tell, exists in Tabula Rasa so that it can be said that Tabula Rasa has crafting. There’s really no need at all for it. Players cannot make anything useful outside of ammunition and materials needed for logos skills. In order to modify armor and weapons, players need to destroy armor and weapons to get the components to make the modifications. That’s right, Tabula Rasa has a sci-fi version of WoW’s Enchanting. Let’s say I have a purple Blade of Bane Ass Kicking. I want to add a critical hit modifier to it. It currently already has four enhancements on it, three of which are awesome and one that I could do without. If I add that critical hit modifier to it, I am playing Russian Roulette with my sword, since the game will arbitrarily replace one of the modifications at random with the one I’m trying to add. This was not a well designed system at all. Until players can make useful items there isn’t much to be gained from wasting skill points on crafting. Even if it’s on a clone you made just to put skill points in crafting.
Tabula Rasa is going to have problems with its economy. Recently an auction house was added but there isn’t anything on it worth buying. See the above part about Crafting. Since only about three things in Tabula Rasa are Bind on Pickup/Equip, there are multiple copies of quest rewards listed for sale. Ammunition is being sold for cheaper than the vendors, which is great. The problem is that it’s much easier to just buy it from an NPC than travel to the auction house to save credits. There are a couple of classes that are going to be far richer than the designers really want. Spies and Guardians don’t need to spend the same credits that all other classes need to on ammunition. This will ensure a healthy amount of inflation as right now, most players are Spies and are sitting on millions of credits that they have nothing to buy with. The first sign of this problem was made noticeable when a skill was taken from a character class that allowed the creation of wormholes for travel. The replacement was a consumable item purchasable from vendors. There were quite a number of high priced vendor items added but the game still needs help bleeding off credits from players.
Tabula Rasa is fun, but frustrating. The game was launched far too early and it shows. With fundamental changes being made after launch, broken missions and mechanics, and a crafting system that seemed to be tacked on as an afterthought, you can see where having another 4-6 months to make the game a more enjoyable experience would have benefited everyone. If you’re an experienced MMO player that is used to dealing with bugs and sweeping changes from patch to patch you’re the right person to be playing Tabula Rasa right now.
Pros and Cons
- Sound effects are excellent
- Bugged/Broken Missions
- Combat is fun and intense
- Core design changes coming too frequently
- Graphics are superb
- User Interface not customizable
- Spy Class
- Crafting needs a purpose
- Environment draws players into game setting
- Frustrating experience for players